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Voices Online Edition
Vol. XXIX, No. 1
Pentecost 2014

Inside Voices -
Women, Faith, Family -- Concern, Conflict, Action


by Helen Hull Hitchcock

Have you noticed? Women, faith, and family seem to be at the heart of the social and religious crisis in our country during these confusing times. From the Supreme Court to the Catholic Church, the focus on issues involving all three is unusually intense.

As I write, the US Supreme Court has just rendered a decision on the controversial Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood case against the US government’s mandate in President Obama’s health care plan that requires all employers to provide insurance coverage to women employees for contraceptives, including abortifacients, or face outlandish fines.

About three hundred religious entities, including Catholic religious orders, universities, hospitals, adoption agencies, and even the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), have been involved in legal proceedings on this same issue.

EWTN, for instance, was faced with fines of $35,000 per day if they continued to refuse to provide free contraceptives and abortifacients to women. Within an hour after the Hobby Lobby decision came down, the 11th Circuit Court granted an emergency injunction that protected EWTN from lethal fines, pending a decision on their case.

In the close (5-4) US Supreme Court decision on June 30 that upheld the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood companies, all three women justices opposed the decision. This did not surprise. However, it is also women — predominantly Catholic, pro-life women — who organized the opposition to the health care mandate; notably a new group led by Helen Alvaré, Women Speak for Themselves.

Although this decision was very good news, much work remains. The other cases involving many Catholic non-profit organizations will not be decided until next year.

Earlier, Susan Benofy and I attended the meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in New Orleans that took place June 11-13. The bishops’ focus at this very busy meeting was also on family, marriage, and religious freedom.

Marriage is a Gospel Witness

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, updated the bishops on the catechetical work of the subcommittee, including videos and the website Marriage: Unique for a Reason (

He outlined the current legal landscape and called attention to the serious legal challenges that have arisen since the June 2013 US Supreme Court ruling that a federal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman (in the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA) is unconstitutional, leaving the definition of marriage up to the states. Archbishop Cordileone said that the bishops are supporting the ability of states to uphold marriage as a union between a man and a woman in a proposed State Marriage Defense Act, which would require the federal government to honor the state law.

Also, he said, “we have endorsed the House resolution calling for the Marriage Protection Amendment to the US Constitution,” which, the archbishop explained, “is the only remedy in law against judicial activism that may ultimately end with federal judges declaring that the Constitution required states to redefine marriage. We are at a critical point in this country when it comes to the promotion and defense of marriage in the law.”

How do we respond to these challenges? “Challenges exist to be overcome!” said Archbishop Cordileone, quoting Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium (109). So we must “share this beauty [of the family] with the world,” the archbishop said.

“We keep in mind that our culture has been wounded by the erosion of an authentic vision of love, sexuality, and marriage over several decades,” he said, and that this challenge to the truth requires our response. Recalling Pope Francis, the archbishop said, “the Church seeks not to impose the truth, but to appeal to freedom and our witness should be marked by joy, encouragement, and liveliness.” The good of society is served by prayer, he pointed out. 

Archbishop Cordileone mentioned the positive response throughout the country to the USCCB’s “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty” initiative.

Only a few days later, on June 19, Archbishop Cordileone addressed the March for Marriage event in Washington, DC — after he had been publicly criticized in very harsh terms by US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who describes herself as a “devout Catholic.”

Synod on the Family

USCCB president Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville briefly reported on preparations for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the “pastoral challenges to the family in the context of evangelization,” to be held at the Vatican October 5-19, 2014. Next year the Ordinary Synod of Bishops will have the same theme.
Archbishop Kurtz sum

marized responses to the consultation that had been sent to bishops’ conferences around the world.  “We know there is a need for greater, effective teaching on key tenets of the faith, such as the indissolubility of marriage, the importance of sexual difference for marriage, the natural law, and the married couple’s call to be open to life,” the archbishop noted.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, DC, a member of the permanent governing council of the synod, reviewed for the bishops the council’s preparatory activities so far. Cardinal Wuerl said that there have been six meetings of the synod council and that Pope Francis has attended all of them. The pope intends an intense focus on family issues at both the extraordinary and ordinary synods, he said. 

In late June, the Vatican issued the synod’s preparatory document (Instrumentum Laboris), which was based on responses to a questionnaire on family issues sent to bishops’ conferences around the world.

World Meeting of Families 2015

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia reported to the bishops on progress in planning the World Meeting of Families, to take place September 22-27, 2015, shortly before the Ordinary Synod on the Family.

“The World Meeting of Families 2015 comes at a time when the Church in the United States urgently needs an opportunity for joy and renewal,” Archbishop Chaput said. “It’s also a time of great confusion about the nature of marriage and the family…. Our goal is to offer the beauty of Catholic teaching about marriage and the family with confidence and a spirit of invitation to every person of good will. That is the heart of our theme: ‘Love is our mission; the family fully alive.’” The archbishop mentioned that Pope Francis has been invited to attend.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, who has overall responsibility for the World Meeting of Families, also addressed the bishops.

“We must globalize family love,” Archbishop Paglia urged, so that “all in the world see in marriage, and in the family it produces, the perfection of our humanity and of society.”

Concerning the Philadelphia meeting, Archbishop Paglia stressed, “I also want our meeting to include Eastern Catholic and Orthodox families, and all communities of Christians — evangelical, Protestant, and unaffiliated — as well as families from the world’s other religions: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and nonreligious families of good will. My brother bishops, please make that happen!”

Archbishop Paglia continued:

The moment, my brothers, is ripe, not because the joy of the Gospel comes easy, but because the Gospel is always the only answer to the crying need, all over the world, for love.

The Gospel of Jesus, and of the Family, must overcome the loneliness that excludes real love and that is suffocating humanity today. Please believe, and preach to your flocks, that it is most surely in the family that we see that our destiny is not loneliness but rather love, mutually sustaining and fruitful — growth, hopeful and wise, and joy, earthly and eternal.

My hope for Philadelphia 2015 is not only that the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia will ring out a new spring for families, but also that in nearby New York the United Nations will hear that sound and realize that lasting peace will be found only if nations believe that all peoples of the world truly are one human family.

On Religious Liberty 

Three agenda items required the bishops’ vote and all of these quickly passed by unanimous voice vote at the Wednesday afternoon session. Two of these items concerned religious liberty and Catholic responsibilities in the political sphere:

1) Continuation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty, headed by Baltimore Archbishop William Lori, for another three years;

2) Updating the bishops’ Faithful Citizenship document, which highlights issues that involve core Church teachings that Catholics are obliged to uphold in political elections.

In his explanation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Freedom, Archbishop Lori commented on the origins of the committee, appointed in 2011 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, then-president of the USCCB, in response to the unanticipated promotion by the US government of civil laws that would force Catholics to violate their consciences or face large penalties.

A more formal structure was needed to defend religious liberty, Archbishop Lori noted, adding that the need for the committee is “at least as great as when it was started.”

The archbishop noted that the Supreme Court’s review of the Hobby Lobby case would occur during the Fortnight for Freedom, June 21-July 4.

After the bishops’ unanimous voice vote to continue the religious freedom committee for another three years, Archbishop Lori suggested that the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, provides an excellent opportunity for more intense catechesis and formation on religious freedom.

On Faithful Citizenship

Closely related to the religious freedom issue (and also unanimously approved by the bishops) was the proposal to revise and update the Faithful Citizenship document.

Originally published in 2007 before the 2008 presidential election, the document outlines the fundamental moral teachings that must be observed by Catholic voters. Updating is needed to include recent changes and the later teachings of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston is the vice-president of the USCCB and heads the working group of bishops that will produce the revised version. He said that the new Faithful Citizenship document will be presented for approval of the bishops at their November meeting, with the intention of publication in 2015 in order to be useful for the 2016 election.

At the press conference after the bishops’ meeting a reporter asked Cardinal DiNardo if the new version of Faithful Citizenship would downplay controversial life issues like abortion and contraception, and highlight poverty, as Pope Francis has stressed.

“We want to make sure that we speak very insistently about the role of poverty, about the economy,” Cardinal DiNardo said. “But this would not take away from our very significant commitment to human personal life. This is non-negotiable,” he said emphatically.

Unity Reflected in Addresses by Lay Catholics

Two addresses on Thursday morning emphasized the unity of the bishops’ focus on faith, freedom, family, and evangelization at this meeting. These topics are not only interrelated, but are, in fact, inseparable. Both addresses at the final public session of the spring meeting were presented by lay Catholics who have particular professional and academic expertise on these topics — from the perspective of both law and sociology.

The first address, “Poverty and the New Evangelization,” was by Helen Alvaré, a professor at George Mason University School of Law and a former spokesman for the USCCB’s Pro-Life Committee who recently began a political initiative, Women Speak for Themselves ( She is also a nationally known author of articles on women and family issues and the editor of Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves. (A chapter of this book, “Fear of Children,” appeared in Voices Advent-Christmas 2012 12-4-HelenAlvare.html).

Professor Alvaré — frequently quoting both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis — addressed the necessity to “marry” the Gospel of Life with the “charity, essential to our mission, [the] bond between faith and service to the poor.” Essential to our evangelical effort is to convey effectively to people the truth and love of Jesus and that the Gospel is grace.

The second speaker was Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies. He has authored books and many articles on family life. Dr. Wilcox’s presentation, “Marriage, Separate and Unequal,” focused on the effect of different levels of education or class on economic status and family stability.

Both addresses and other conference presentations are accessible on the USCCB web page for the June meeting ( “Speeches and Documents” section, in the right-hand column).

It was most encouraging to see the unity among the bishops on key topics of concern to Catholics, particularly in the face of today’s serious challenges to the Christian faith — and to living that faith — that people encounter in daily life. Our bishops’ focus on the way forward to overcome these challenges, in prayer and in action, is a positive sign of hope.

The more things change, the more they stay the same?

In observance of WFF’s 30th anniversary this year, this issue of Voices revisits two articles from our 10th anniversary on still highly relevant topics: women, faith, and family.

First is “The Family, the Heart of the Civilization of Love” an address to the 1994 WFF conference by Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, then president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. The second, “The Domestic Church — the Covenant and the Cross,” is from the same conference. 

We are also pleased to publish “Collaboration of Man and Woman in the Church,” an in-depth essay by theologian Sister Sara Butler, MSBT.  Sister Sara was one of the original bishops’ consulters on the “women’s pastoral” effort when WFF first began in 1984. Now a strong and persuasive voice for authentic Church teaching, she is a member of the International Theological Commission and a consultant to the USCCB Committee on Doctrine.

 As Saint John Paul II often repeated, “the human being is entrusted to women” in a special way. Clearly our responsibility for upholding the truth of our faith, and for transmitting this liberating truth to the next generation, is undiminished.  In fact, it seems more critical now than ever. 

May God give us the wisdom, strength, and courage to continue to do what we must — following the example of faithfulness and fortitude and the evangelical wisdom of the many women saints of history, and especially of Our Blessed Mother, Mary. For this we pray.





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